The Situation in Yemen
Even before the breakout of outright war in early 2015, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Currently, the country ranks 168th out of 188 for human development, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP). Tensions first grew when former President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand power over to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in 2012, after months of protests calling for his resignation. The Houthi movement, comprised largely of Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority, and which had been rebelling against former President Saleh, took advantage of the struggling new president by taking control of the northern Saada province. Hadi fled south and soon secured backing from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The warring parties’ failure to compromise leaves the country gripped by a humanitarian crisis, with 60 percent of the population lacking food security and 3.1 million (around 12 percent) internally displaced, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
Yemen now faces both a humanitarian, and a political, crisis. The executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, has called the situation in Yemen “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.” The war has destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure, resulting in widespread shortages of life-sustaining goods and services, and leaving its population at serious risk of contracting a wide range of serious diseases; for example, the country is currently experiencing one of the worst cholera outbreaks of the last century. The political side of the conflict is equally fraught. The international community has tried three times to facilitate peace talks between the political elements party to the conflict, only to see each attempt end in failure. This process has been held up in large part to Saudi Arabia’s accusation that Iran, despite its continued protests to the contrary, has been a major supporter of the Houthi forces. It appears that Yemen may have been caught in the ongoing Saudi-Iranian battle for dominance and influence in the region.
The UN needs to help stabilize an already crumbling situation. The committee will need to address how best to deliver both medical and food aid to a nation missing critical transportation infrastructure, while facing an ongoing failure to raise enough donations to fund the necessary relief efforts. The scale of the effort required is already imposing, and is only made more difficult by the continuation of armed conflict. With no current end in sight, can the committee work and hope for a negotiated peace between the government and the Houthi rebels? Now that the war has entered its third year, what would such a peace look like? It will likely be necessary for the committee to try and find a way to separate this conflict from ongoing efforts toward regional hegemony by Saudi Arabia and Iran, which would at minimum help to stem the tide of arms into the region. Only then can economic, transportation, and humanitarian infrastructure throughout the country begin to recover.